Last week I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in the Digital Media and Learning: Designing Learning Futures conference in Long Beach. What was striking to me as a first-year female grad student was that this was the first time I had seen evidence of the fact that not only are we women represented in higher numbers in schools, but we could actually be represented on dais, in charge, doing the work. There was no shortage of women whose careers provide a road map for those of us coming up behind them. As I chatted and networked, I was asked again how I do it with three-year-old twins at home while working. My gut instinct is to say “I don’t know,” because I honestly don’t think about it that much. But as my first year as a PhD student comes to an end, it might be useful to someone else for me to think through how I do it.
Before I start with the tips and tricks, a few points I want to make. First, this post is a little scary for me to write as I was told TO NEVER MENTION THAT I HAVE PROCREATED if I want to be taken seriously in the academe. I have never explicitly blogged about parenthood here and even deleted my mommy blog. But as I look around, I sense the importance for us mamacademics to stick together a bit. Secondly, a few weeks ago, after being asked about how my kids were doing, I was told point blank that I was a bad mother for working and going to school while my kids were young. BY ANOTHER FEMALE ACADEMIC. So I’m feeling a bit scrappy, to be honest. The surest way to motivate me to do the impossible is to tell me I can’t. So, for all my sisters out there trying to do the balance, I give you my reflection on how I make it work (and some of the ways it doesn’t).
- Sharpen your pencils before class: I like to make sure that I know my assets and that they are as well-tuned as possible. I work ahead whenever I have a free moment. I know when my twins will play together so I can fire off an email and when they won’t. The Kindle is perfect for reading while cooking; the iPad even better. The idea here is that I map out when I can multitask and when I need to have a singular focus on the kids, housework, homework, or work-work and I plan accordingly. Why waste time when the kids are sleeping doing the laundry, when I can instead have them help me do it? Three-year olds love loading laundry into the washer. Why try and send an email when they are crabby and just want to sit and read in my lap? I sit and read, naturally, and I don’t worry about it. Of course, flexibility is the watchword in all things, and I am sure to cut myself slack when it doesn’t go according to plan.
- Do a Lit Review: At the end of this post, I have listed some useful articles I’ve read recently. I habitually use waiting room time at appointments to beeline for the parenting magazines. I will pull out my phone, bring up the Evernote app, and take pictures and notes of the articles I want to remember (or absent that, write them down with a pencil and paper). I have gotten more tips from this short activity than anywhere else. I have faith that I am not the first person to run out of craft activities during the winter, and a well-run craft activity at my house means getting dinner done more easily or another chapter read. I never stop searching for ideas and hacks to make my life as a parent run more smoothly. Not to mention that my kids do not need me involved in their every activity. I don’t really care about Thomas the Train, and that’s okay. They don’t seem to care about Multiple Regression either. We can still be together.
- Find a guidance committee: I have filled my support system with friends with no kids, friends who are working moms, friends who are in grad school with families, friends who are single in grad school, etc. Without this diversity of friendships, I know I would be much worse off. My friends without kids will babysit in a pinch. My friends who are working moms are great for commiserating. My grad school friends are the best motivators. Overall, my friends out of school’s healthy skepticism that a PhD is a good idea keep me the most honest (and prevent me from ever attempting to pepper my conversations with jargon. Ewwww.)
- Everything is a practicum: I really love the idea of the practicum. Here I get a chance to try out some little study, some tiny corner of my field with basically no risk. I can posit a theory that doesn’t pan out and it’s fine! Just as long as I learn something for the next round. I try to approach everything like this: I am going to try it, see what works, and when it doesn’t work out, take it as a learning experience. If you think about it, sustaining a healthy marriage and raising kids never really have that definitive dissertation-finishing moment to them–it is generally a serious of trials and errors and sometimes actually learning something that works.
- Write something everyday: I find that there are three things I require for optimal daily happiness: writing, exercising, and eating. I don’t try to do any of these perfectly, but I try to do at least all three every day. I read a ton of stuff while riding on the elliptical (with the GoodReader app on the iPad, I can even annotate while getting my heart rate up). Writing every day can mean something important and school-like or just for fun. Living the life of the mind means letting it roam free over the page, and writing for no reason at all is great way to get me ready for writing things that matter. Also, I know that I ALWAYS regret eating sugar and caffeine, so I try to make sure that everything I put into my body is nourishing. If I am not nourished, no way can I be a good employee, partner, mother, or student.
- Try not to panic: I am including this one because it is the one I fail at most often. Sometimes, the toys scattered across the floor make me want to sit and weep. If I get lost driving in the car, I can have a full-blown freak out. I try not to panic in front of the kids, but I also know that seeing mommy deal with the full range of human emotions is one of the ways they will learn to deal with their own. I try never to look past the next thing on the to-do list and I create said lists when I am in the proper mental state. Sometimes that means AFTER I do the dishes, sometimes not.
Above all, cultivating a sense of compassion for myself, my colleagues, and really anyone I come across is essential. I can cut myself some slack. This is not an easy road for anyone, and we are all trying our best. At the end of the day, if this grad school thing doesn’t work out, I still have my work and my family: I get to hedge my bets while trying something I love. I remain my only judge and I let myself know when I am judging too harshly. While I don’t always do this well, I always attempt to find that place of good enough. Would I like to be perfect? Sure. But good enough seems to be the place of sanity for me.
Any other tips/tricks you can give me as I go forward? Please leave them in the comments TIA!
For more helpful posts on this topic:
- Pregnancy in Academia (from the awesome blog: acadmichic)
- Dawn of the Grad: Rules for Surviving the Zombie Apocaplypse and Your First Year of Grad School
- An Open Letter to New Grad Students
- Using the iPad to hack the grad school work flow